Beset by vendor conflicts, new REBNY listing system finally set to launch in August

Some industry sources say the long-awaited transition has been mishandled

From left: Steven Goldschmidt, co-chair of RLS and technology committee at REBNY, Eric Gordon of RealPlus
From left: REBNY's Steven Goldschmidt, RealPlus' Eric Gordon

The Real Estate Board of New York’s hotly anticipated revamped listings system – widely called the RLS – will launch on Aug. 1, seven months after its original projected debut, trade group officials told The Real Deal.

The reason for the delay was a difficulty coordinating the five vendors whose technology interfaces with the system, according to Steven Goldschmidt, a broker with Warburg Realty who heads up REBNY’s technology committee, and Freddy Sarabia, the group’s RLS director. The group reasoned that in a real estate market with little inventory and fast-paced transactions, the risk of problems was too high to move over to the rejiggered system in a rush, they said.

Indeed, getting all the vendors on the same page has required a Herculean coordination effort, Goldschmidt said, comparing the task to “pushing Jell-O up a hill with a fork.”

The transition to the new RLS — the path through which all REBNY members can share listings and the “lifeblood” of the industry, according to some brokers  — has been years in the planning, as The Real Deal has reported. Developed by Katonah, N.Y.-based Stratus Data Systems, the new system will conform to a nationwide industry standard called the Real Estate Transaction Standard, or RETS, which will purportedly allow brokers to access the system through mobile apps, among other bells and whistles.

The changes should make co-broking easier and place the thousands of New York City brokers who use the RLS on an even playing field with brokers in other metropolitan regions across the nation, who have used RETS-compliant multiple listings services for years, brokers and REBNY sources said. But the system has been delayed for years, and many brokers were not even aware that the planned January transition had not taken place.

“I assumed that it had been a seamless transition,” to the new system, said Douglas Wagner, executive director at residential brokerage Bond New York.

Goldschmidt insisted that brokers and vendors have been kept in the loop about the holdups, and REBNY has updated the industry by email, according to copies of the correspondence provided to TRD.

Some sources, however, say the delay is no surprise and that the transition has been mishandled.

“There are issues,” said the head of a prominent residential brokerage who asked not to be identified. “If there is a problem with the data, it would be terrible for the industry and for my firm; but there is a tremendous pressure to launch Aug. 1.”

However, Goldschmidt retorted that the overhaul of a system that has been in place for more than a decade is complex, and the group is simply exercising due caution. “We are in a market with very tight inventory, so there was a special concern that we not do a [hasty] switchover in a tight environment,” he said.

The delay was also necessary to make sure all the vendors were up to speed. “We didn’t have the luxury of telling [vendors], ‘Those of you who aren’t ready, tough,’” Goldschmidt said.

But the reason for the delay may have been political as well as technological, and, like any story involving the big egos of New York City real estate personalities, the narrative is in dispute.

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To some, the blame for the delay is squarely on the shoulders of Eric Gordon, the creator of RealPlus, a company that provides one of the listings platforms that feed into the RLS. (Others include On-Line Residential, RealtyMX, BrokersNYC and Solid Earth, as well as proprietary systems Taxi and Limo, developed by Douglas Elliman and the Corcoran Group, respectively.)

Gordon also developed the current transmission system, dubbed R.O.L.E.X., that has been used to feed listings to the five platforms for the last 11 years, but should be replaced by the Stratus system, if all goes well, on Aug. 1.

However, as late as January of this year, RealPlus was refusing to provide its RLS data feed to REBNY, and declined to sign a user agreement for the new system, on the grounds that the new RLS will create an “instant competitor” for R.O.L.E.X. and that RealPlus owns the intellectual property in the data feed, according to a memo from Gordon’s attorney, Martin Friedman of McLaughlin & Stern, obtained by TRD.

A spokesperson for REBNY said the issue with Gordon was “resolved a long time ago.”

Gordon felt slighted by the fact that his firm was not tapped to develop the new transmission system, industry sources said, which might have also contributed to his unwillingness to smooth the transition to Stratus. Unfortunately, as the head of RealPlus, his cooperation in implementing the new system was crucial. Gordon did not return requests for comment.

“Eric was not adequately engaged,” said Neil Binder, the head of Coldwell Banker Bellmarc, which led to misunderstandings and disputes between REBNY and Gordon. Binder, whose firm also uses a proprietary listings database, said the conflict has now been resolved.

But other worries about the changeover, which Goldschmidt once compared to the change between running Windows or an Apple operating system, remain. “I will believe [it works] when I see it,” one source said.

Confusing things further, Binder said that the Stratus system was briefly put into use but was so buggy it was immediately taken offline. But Goldschmidt insisted that Stratus was never implemented, though he conceded that the two systems — Stratus’ system and R.O.L.E.X. — have been running parallel, with Stratus’ in beta testing, but not live for everyday RLS users.

Still, some brokers were either unaware of any hitches (and the accompanying “insider baseball”) or believed that the August transition will proceed without serious incident.

“According to my programming people, they have [fixed] … the bugs that were blatantly there,” Binder said. That has assuaged his earlier fears that the implementation would be “a disaster.”

He is now fatalistic about the transition: “They are gonna flip the switch, and see if it stays lit.”

Correction: A previously published version of this story incorrectly identified the new system’s developer as Bermuda-based Stratus Technology. In fact, the company in question is Katonah-based Stratus Data Systems. 

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